I painted this picture of Gen. Robert E. Lee in 1984, from a photograph by Mathew Brady~ published in Harper’s Weekly at the time, the caption read: “This photograph shows a picture of Robert E. Lee. The picture was taken shortly after Lee’s surrender. The photograph was taken by Mathew Brady, and shows the General in his uniform. Despite his recent loss in the War, the General still stands tall and proud. ” I enjoyed painting this picture of the General tremendously, he was one of the really great men of all times. The painting belongs to one of my sons, he found a mistake, he said “General Lee did not have blue eyes.”
When ZZ was eleven years old, she decided she wanted to paint a big picture. She had been painting since she was a little girl, mostly 9X12 scenes of adobe houses, parrots, and cow’s portraits. I told her it would take a long time on a large one since she could only paint a couple of weeks every so often when she came to Texas.
She picked a bluebonnet to copy, looking at another painting is a great way to learn, you can see the brush strokes and mix the colors to match. The first day she had the sky pretty well done, start at the top of the canvas, that way you don’t get your hand in wet paint while you come toward the bottom. She started painting the dark green where the tree would go. Later when it had dried for a couple of days she put some of the highlights on the big tree and the lighter bushes and trees in the background.
This painting is on the South Concho River near Christoval. You can get in a kayak and paddle almost to the ‘head of the river’ where it starts as a small gravely spot and water bubbles up out of the ground. Like Magic, it turns into this wonderful river that flows all the way to San Angelo 19 miles away. When you are in a boat, every bend in the river is a new scene, one thrill after another. I like painting water, not only rivers and ponds, but a puddle in the road, or dark clouds building up before a rain. I have seen paintings of the surf, with waves tumbling over each other, white foam and aqua colored water, I tried it once but it was a failure. I can appreciate anyone who can capture all of that wonder. I have to stick with the calm water of the river. Air, water and food, in that order, we can’t survive without all three~I am grateful~
Harold Wood, who was in charge of the LBJ Park near Johnson City once sent me an old photograph of a camp cook with his chuck wagon and wanted me use it as a subject for an oil painting. I really enjoyed painting it and it hung in the Library and Conference Room at the park for several years. It reminded me of far West Texas and the Culberson County Ranch. Hunting camps still have camp cooks, usually one of the hunters takes on the job and does it year after year. Sometimes a real cook comes and gets to hunt for free. I can only imagine the men starting out early on a cold morning with a big breakfast of scrambled eggs, boiled coffee and biscuits cooked in an old Dutch oven on the open fire, then heading out for the big hunt. This is where fathers bond with sons, brothers with brothers. This is where friendships are made that last a lifetime.
I painted this Mexican man with his oxen pulling a cart in 1966, after one of our trips deep into Mexico, (not far from, Guanajuato.) Usually I take a picture and use parts of it for a painting. This time, it is almost exactly like the photo I took. There were three men sitting on a bench under the tree and I chose to leave them out. This part of Mexico is beautiful, the scenes are like they came from another world. It has a ‘feel’ about it that you don’t forget. With sounds like a donkey braying, a ‘hee-honk~wheeze~ hee-honk~wheeze~ noise’ that keeps going until you wonder if he is dying~or just happy. The birds have their brilliant colors and exotic songs. In all of this noise of nature, people are quiet spoken and you hardly hear them make a sound. Nothing rowdy going on here. You notice all of this because it is so different. Then the smells are fresh and pleasant, orange, pineapple and mango, the slightly pungent smell of papaya, (I am aware of smells and enjoy that special sense, next to seeing and hearing~ a cow lot, or a dirt floor in a barn when it starts to rain, the warm sweet smell of a baby’s hair, a puppy’s breath~) Anyway back to Mexico, I know I will never be able to go there again, but it stays fresh in my mind and I will keep it with me forever. México, hermoso país, personas finas
My friend Pat brought me an snap shot of an old grist mill in Glen Rose, it was built back in 1860 and at one time owned by her Great Grandfather Price. She wanted me to paint it for her. She told me the story behind it and I found more information on the internet, so while I was painting, it was interesting to know the history. She remembered visiting her grandmother there when she was growing up so it was part of her young life. Once when she was six years old, her mother put her on a bus in Ballinger, sat her behind the driver and told him not to let her off until she got to Glen Rose where her grandparents were waiting to pick her up. Times were different back then. After I finished the painting and she had it for a few days and came back and wondered if I could add some children playing in the yard. I asked my little Edmiston neighbors to come over and pose under my oak tree, with a wagon and the swing, then painted them in the picture. It brought it to life. This old building still stands in Glen Rose, it has been a grist mill, cotton gin, hospital and now an art gallery, many changes in a century and a half. Pat has this little bit of history hanging on her wall. I enjoyed painting it~
I painted this picture from a black and white Mathew Brady sketch. I was not excited to do it but someone wanted it. Since the sketch had very little detail, I painted in faces that were not there. I ended up with people I knew, members of the family, I had to improvised. When I thought it was finished, I had to go back and take out the 30.30 rifles, they didn’t have any of those in the Civil War, and replace them with muzzle loaders. I also had to repaint the Mexican people with black people. There was a lot of painting going on with this one. It was a huge challenge, all the faces are the size of a postage stamp .I was loving it by the time I finished. The guy who ordered it traded it for something else. (Some day it will be his again).
In l963, I painted this picture from a snapshot my good friend Helen McAngus gave me of her daughter Lisa and nephew Willie. Their horse was Sally~ This picture was one of the most enjoyable to paint that I can ever remember. I knew these kids well, they had fun growing up in the country, there was always something to do. About six years ago, I had a letter from Helen’s granddaughter Shannon, telling me she had the painting now and how much it meant to have something from her mom’s childhood. Since then I have written her notes about Lisa and Willie growing up. Shannon has a beautiful little daughter named Morlee who looks a lot like Lisa. This picture has been on Face Book but I wanted to put it in my blog, it has come full circle for me, fun from 1963 and on up until today. I love this story, I loved those kids~
A scene from New Zealand~I would have loved to have gone there sometime. I have seen many pictures from that area and it is a beautiful and tranquil place. That is about as far away as you can get from West Texas. I painted this picture for my brother in law along with a fall scene from Pittsburgh, they were both colorful and went well together. I like water and I like mountains. Sometimes when we have big rains, the dry lake near my house fills up and stays full for several weeks. Then once in a while when a norther is starting to blow in, there will be dark blue banks of clouds north of the house that look like huge mountains. I like to dream~
In 1973 I painted this combination of places and things. I started with a sky and everything else just grew until it was done. The building is a barn behind a nice home in Mason, Texas. I added a porch and a second story. Polk, the horse belonged to Danny Pena, Hank was Dan’s Ag. project, the chickens were Goya’s and the woman was ‘guess who’. The good thing about oil painting, if you don’t like something, you can let it dry and paint right over it. When I was painting full time, I kept at least three painting going at once. The first one I worked on completely covering the canvas, the sky and ground and some sketching with the brush. That went fast. Then I turned to the second one that had been drying for a couple of days and I worked on the road, trees and had it pretty well done. This was the time to correct things I didn’t like. Then the third canvas was ready for the fun part, all the many little details that made it a finished piece. (And I mean finished, there is a time to stop and not over work it.)
I can’t just paint a man on a horse, I need a photograph to go by, it is the same with animals. I have so many pictures I have taken of sheep, cattle and horses, even pigs. I just single out a few and paint them into a picture. Proportion, color intensity and detail is important to give the painting it’s third dimension, otherwise it will look flat. In this painting, the horse is as tall as the windmill, the prickly pear is the same height as one of the cows, the rider and the horse are as tall as the tallest tree. Also, the sharp details need to be at the bottom of the painting, and should fade out toward the horizon. You paint what you see, not what you know. If you have something way back in the pasture, you know he has eyes but if you paint those details in it will bring him right up front and you will end up losing the depth. Same with bluebonnets, those at the bottom of the canvas will show the detail and the brilliant colors, they need to start fading fast into the background to a faint pale blue. (An interesting way to see the depth is to make a fist and look through a hole at the painting on the screen). Knowing proportions has made it easy for me to carve all the little miniatures, I made the first chair for instance and proportioned everything else to it’s size.
This is ‘The Story Teller’, companion painting to ‘The Old Ladies’ I posted a few days ago. I painted them both the same week in 1963 and was excited, these were so different from the usual landscapes and river scenes. I loved that time in my life, we had our two little boys and that is the sweetest time of all. This painting was shown at the Schleicher County Nursing home for several years. I like it, it reminds me of my grandmother Christian reading to me and my two sister. She always had time read to us and tell us stories, (the one story that always stands out is when her baby boy Jack was born and weighed eleven and a half pounds and it took three days to birth him). Grandmother had lots of stories about growing up in Loyal Valley. There were still Indians there at that time. Her mother would take the little kids down to Lost Creek with her to fish for dinner. It always was a little frighting to hear but made me thankful that nothing bad happened to them. I am sure everyone has their own good memories of their grandmothers. And now we are the grandmothers~we are all blessed~